The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong trains gun on hire and fire

New Delhi, April 7: The Congress has said labour reforms cannot be achieved in a vacuum, adding that the social security net has to be strengthened and people protected before this is done.

Asked to spell out his party’s stand at a question-answer session that followed the release of the Congress’ vision document on economic growth today, Congress Working Committee member Manmohan Singh said: “It is all a matter of what you consider labour reforms to be. We need to strengthen the protective mechanisms and social security net because the whole burden of adjustment should not fall on the weak sections.

“We are against the hire-and-fire policy. The important thing is to create a lot more job opportunities to create security in the minds of people. If the total aggregate of employment is shrinking, then the additional fear of people losing their jobs will not gain political acceptability.”

Criticising the National Democratic Alliance government’s public savings policy, Singh said: “The Unit Trust fiasco hurt millions of depositors. Today, the inflation rate is roughly the same as (the) deposit rate. This needs to be adjusted as a means of incentive to encourage savings.”

A question on reservation for Dalits and tribals in the private sector showed the Congress appears to have calibrated its response since last year’s Shimla Conclave at which a position paper advocated such a policy. Singh said: “Our manifesto spells out our approach to employment opportunities for Scheduled Castes and Tribes in the private sector. The time is on for a dialogue with the private sector on how it can enlarge opportunities for SCs and STs. Fresh innovative thinking is necessary.”

On the subsidies for higher education, the former finance minister said: “All education has externalities. We are not of the view that there should be no subsidies. In the case of management institutes, if we have a system of giving more scholarships to needy students, there is no need for large-scale subsidies.”

Speaking about the divestment policy, another working committee member, Pranab Mukherjee, said: “Those public sector units which are earning substantive profits in a competitive environment need not necessarily be disinvested. If budgetary support is not available, they themselves can disinvest a portion. Our assurance is if we come to power, the whole system will be transparent so that no one can raise fingers at us.”

Both Singh and Mukherjee felt security issues cannot be “wished away” while considering the sale of oil and communications companies. The latter said the issue had been “misused” by the BJP to “favour some of their cronies” and penalise those who were “not in their good books”.

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